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The Unsolved Case of Kayla May Berg

A Broken Promise

By J. Nathaniel LeePublished 11 months ago Updated 11 months ago 62 min read
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Courtesy of NBC News https://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/wisconsin-mother-still-searching-10th-anniversary-daughter-kayla-berg-s-n1041041

Article first published on Medium

LOST AND FOUND, and LOST AGAIN

On August 10th, 2009, two worried mothers made the decision to go to the police department for help. Their two daughters, Kayla and Natasha, failed to return home from the previous evening’s event. Each mother was told the night before that their daughter was staying at the other girl’s home for the night—not true, and not an uncommon teenage shenanigan. This time, what they sold as an innocent sleepover was actually a pretext to get away from their respective houses for the night to attend an outdoor bonfire party.

Unfortunately, neither of the two girls performed the key component of this teenage scam: the part where they return to their home and offer matching stories except for the location. This time, not only did both Kayla and Natasha fail to make it home on time, but both girls had gone suspiciously incommunicado since the previous night. This left two frightened mothers standing in a police station preparing to file a Missing Person report on their minor daughters. However, just as they were about to begin the process, information came in that their children had been located. Kayla and Natasha were safe. As it turned out, they stayed overnight at the party and were fine. The mothers thanked the police for their time and returned to their homes, reunited with their young daughters.

As you can imagine, Kayla’s mother sat her down for a serious heart-to-heart about her behavior. Further, in her previous efforts to track down her daughter, one of Kayla’s friends let it slip that sometimes the teens liked to head to Wausau for their parties. That piece of information did not sit well with Hope at all, and she elicited a promise from Kayla that these trips would stop. We will probably never know if Kayla meant to keep that promise.

On August 11th, the very next day, Kayla let her mom know she was planning on spending the day with her friend Natasha and then heading to her father’s house. Around 8:45 that evening, Kevin, a long-time family friend, picked Kayla up from her father’s house. Within hours, she requested to be dropped off at a house out in Wausau, and from there she disappeared. Or did she?

This is the baffling case of Kayla May Berg…

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF KAYLA BERG

First, writing about this tragedy brings back some guilt for me. I have to admit that this case caught my attention years ago, and for not entirely selfless reasons. Yes, I felt sad for the girl and her family, no question. However, this was not my primary response.

I have a daughter, and she was fast approaching her teenage years. As a father, the idea of sending your teen girl out into the world is scary enough. Add to that a father that is a true crime researcher and writer, and the act becomes downright paralyzing. Most men worry about their little girl ending up in the backseat of some car with a hormonally challenged teen boy that coerced her into something or maybe gets her pregnant. Hey, in our minds, our little girls are always angels and it’s always the boy’s fault, right? Well, for me, it was less about her encountering a horny teen boy, as much as it was about her encountering the next ‘Jack the Ripper,’ teen edition. I was less worried about her getting pregnant than I was about her ending up buried in a barrel somewhere.

This case seemed like the perfect “boogie man” scenario for my situation, and I made use of it often. As we go through the case together, you will see why. But this is so much more than a cautionary tale, especially to Kayla’s family and friends. I usurped your painful story for my own devices, and for that, I offer my sincerest apologies. It is my hope that by adding another voice attempting to bring attention to your case, I can also make some small amends.

Second, I have to admit that I too initially fell victim to one of the central problems with this case—bogus information overload. On the surface, it seems like there are tons of pieces to this puzzle, enough that we should have been able to put this all together by now. However, once you really start digging, the reality takes a very different shape. The top layer turns out to be gossip, rumor, innuendo, and personal feelings—not facts. The next, and even larger layer, turns out to be circumstantial evidence—juicy though it may be, still gets us no further. Finally, we are only left with a few indisputable, rock-solid facts. The scary truth is, once you get finished digging, you could probably put that layer on a postcard. Once again, as we go through this case, I think you will see what I mean.

There are several sources for this work, most especially the news reports, interviews, and papers of the time. I would also like to thank Steven Pacheco, of the Trace Evidence Podcast. While I don’t normally use podcasts as a source, I have watched his efforts for years, and the times I have checked my research against his work, we have had similar results and conclusions. I don’t know the man personally, and I get nothing for an endorsement or tip of the hat. That being said, if you are looking for another well-researched and presented show to satisfy your true crime tastes, I highly recommend his work. There is also an episode of Disappeared that tracks pretty well with most of the surface information that I also uncovered. So if you find this case as fascinating as I do, Season 8 Episode 10 is well worth a watch.

TWO TOWNS IN THE MIDDLE

Before we get to the background of the people involved, we need to familiarize ourselves with the two locations that play a part in this baffling case: the city of Wausau and the smaller town of Antigo.

According to current Mayor, Bill Brandt, the town of Antigo, Wisconsin, “is a community with tremendous civic pride, a community with a diverse business environment and a city filled with friendly people.” I’m sure he means every word, but he could have just as easily said welcome to your typical small rural town in Middle America. The Mayor also states that their “small-town atmosphere makes Antigo a great place to live or visit,” and if you enjoy small community Midwestern living, then he may well be right.

Putting aside the mayor’s Antigo sales pitch, the town really is the prototypical picturesque small Midwestern rural town. It covers less than 7 square miles and contains less than 10,000 residents. It’s the kind of place that’s quiet, has a low crime rate, and where everybody knows everybody. This place stands in contrast to our next destination, roughly 34 miles to the south and west, the city of Wausau.

Wausau is a city in central Wisconsin, dissected by the Wisconsin River. Several sources tout it as one of the best places to live in Wisconsin. After digging into crime statistics, I personally have my doubts. According to the FBI crime data, Wausau’s crime rate is higher than 83% of Wisconsin’s other cities and towns by comparison. However, if you like to ski, this seems like one of the best places to visit in the state.

Although many people probably would not consider Wausau a “major city” (unless you were born and raised in a town like Antigo), it is large enough to have one of those confusing situations where you have the town of Wausau and the city of Wausau—the city being next to and parts within the town. The area covers just over 20 square miles, with a town population of just under 40,000 residents and a metro area boasting just over 134,000 residents.

Wausau was (and probably still is) a popular draw for the youth of Antigo, but it’s in Antigo itself where we begin building this case.

KAYLA BERG, THE EARLY YEARS

On August 29th, 1993, father James Spanbauer and mother Hope Sprenger gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl they named Kayla May. She was the second bundle of joy to come into the household, as she had an older brother, Jimmy, about 2 1/2 years older than her.

Her parents never married, and that seemed to work just fine for them—until it didn’t. When Kayla was still just a toddler, the couple separated. From everything I can find, it seems that the separation was very amicable. Kayla lived with her mother, but stayed with her father on alternating weekends, and was free to visit or stay with her father as often as she liked. Frankly, one could only hope that all separations worked as well as this one. Of course, it’s possible that things were not as rosy in the separation as they portrayed, but I can’t find any evidence that would point in that direction. In fact, I would say that many of the things we are going to find out point to it being exactly as copacetic as it seemed.

Things did turn south for the Spanbauer-Sprenger family. However, it wasn’t the separation; it was a cancer diagnosis. Around the time of their split, or shortly thereafter, James was diagnosed with cancer. It was advanced enough that he started going through dialysis and needed to move in with his parents for added assistance. By all accounts, James and Kayla were extremely close and seeing someone she loved so dearly, go through so much, had a profound impact on her character development.

Along with being very close with her father, it is also well documented that she was extremely close with her brother, Jimmy. While some brothers act as more a tormentor for their younger sister(s), Jimmy took on a more protector role.

Please excuse the jump into the future for a moment, but I believe this role is still on display today. Everything I have read about Jimmy is that he still carries around the self-proclaimed weight that he ‘should have been there for her,’ or ‘if he would have just been there, things would be different.’ Whether his belief is accurate is not for us to say, but the fact that he still walks with that burden to this day demonstrates the depth of his feelings and commitment to his little sister.

Through her younger years, and into her tweens, Kayla was a good student. She was also known for her kindness and energy, including the lengths she would go to make others laugh or feel better. Kayla was also a very driven girl, especially in one specific area: gymnastics. By all accounts, she was a very talented gymnast who also worked very hard at excelling in the sport. With her natural talent and hard work, those around her saw a real future for Kayla in that arena.

Then it came time for high school…

…AND MORE TROUBLE BREWS

Traditionally, one of the most difficult transitions in a person’s life is the passage from childhood to adulthood. A small percentage on one side handles it exceptionally well, smoothly gliding from one side to the other. A small percentage on the other side hit this transition like a wall, responding by making catastrophic mistakes that destroy their future. The majority of us land somewhere in the middle. We make our mistakes along the way, but manage to come out the other side relatively unscathed (typically having some bumps and bruises with cautionary stories to tell, tales which are promptly dismissed by our children with dramatic eye-rolls).

When I mentioned earlier about the layer of gossip, rumor, innuendo, and personal feelings clouding this case, this is one of those areas that created issues with her case. People caught wind of the pretty stereotypical teenage rebellious acts, acts we will cover later, and proceeded to blow them out of proportion and replace them with salacious and over-dramatized nonsense. This foolishness rose to the point that several theories about her case portrayed the “inappropriate behavior” of Kayla and her friends as partially, if not wholly, responsible for what befell Kayla. Poppycock. Kayla was about as normal a teenager, angst and all, as you could find.

When Kayla hit high school, her grades started an obvious decline. She also began spending less time with family and more of her time hanging out and partying more with her friends. This included lying about where she was, who she was with, where they were going, and occasionally using the fact that her parents were separated to benefit these schemes. As any parent that has, or had, a teen can tell you—you can’t die on every hill, and you must pick your battles. Hope expressed concern for Kayla, but knew this lesson well. However, Hope also admitted that at this point she did not know about the trips to Wausau and, when she finally found out, it was a battle she was willing to fight.

Like most small towns in America: if the local teens can’t find fun and excitement in their hometowns, they will find it elsewhere. The teens of Antigo are no exception, and for them, the party bus ended in Wausau. Kayla and her friends would frequently take trips to Wausau, where it is reported that parties filled with underage drinking and drug experimentation were easy to find. These events were so frequent that one of the local police department’s primary duties was breaking up these gatherings. It was at one such get-together that Kayla met Miguel, one of the key players in this baffling mystery.

Miguel Marrero and his brothers, who all lived in Wausau, threw a lot of parties. Kayla, along with her friends, attended quite a few of them. At one such event, Kayla spent time with Miguel and, even though he was 4 years older, a relationship quickly blossomed. The two are known to have dated during her sophomore year.

This is another area where the facts seem to get a bit fuzzy for me. It was a known fact that 19-year-old Miguel dated a 15-year-old Kayla. OK, I’m going to skip over my personal feelings on the age issue and stick to the facts. It’s also known that, while they were dating, Miguel would come into Antigo and pick her up so they could go out. Kayla’s mother was opposed to the pairing, and even requested later that they end the relationship. Do we assume she never asked how they met, where he lived, or where they went when they did go out? They met in Wausau. Fact. The boy lived in Wausau. Fact. He would come into town and they would go out. Fact. Yet the mother had no idea that Kayla was connected to, or spending time in, Wausau? Huh? Seems like a bit of a logic leap to me, but let’s put a pin in that question until later.

At the end of Kayla’s sophomore year, Hope was having a tough time finding work and making ends meet. She had family down in Texas whispering in her ear that there were more opportunities, and a chance for a fresh start, for Hope down south. It also seems that Hope hit that parenting wall where enough is enough, and it was time to step into her kid’s life for a bit of course correction.

These two events created the catalyst for Hope to have a heart-to-heart and take on two birds with one stone: First, kid, your life is taking a nose-dive, (insert all the parenting things to say here: poor grades, lying, losing focus, too much time with friends, poor choice of boyfriend, etc), and it’s time to get back on track. As I said before, a pretty typical teen scenario, and I am sure most of us have either received, given, or both, this very lecture. Second, I need to move to Texas for better prospects and a chance to start fresh. Although I won’t force you, maybe you should consider coming with me and doing the same.

I have to give Hope credit. I’m not sure that I would have been able to put that choice in Kayla’s hands. Although, I am sure she considered that Kayla would have to leave a father she was very close with and who was currently fighting cancer for his life. A tough choice and she earns my respect for that one.

I am certain it was a tough decision for the teen, but in the end, Kayla opted to move to Texas with her mother. Whether she bought into the “fresh start” driven purpose, I don’t think we will ever know, but we do know she packed up and headed south with her mother.

Another interesting discrepancy happens here, and, although I don’t feel it’s all that critical to dissecting the case, it adds to the story. In my research, I have found several sources that say, Jimmy, her brother, moved with them. I have also found several sources that say he stayed in Antigo. All agree that he graduated high school that year, but from there they seem to diverge and put him in different places at the same time. I think either choice would say something different about Jimmy during that period, so I would love to give you a definitive answer, but I can’t at this time.

The move was short-lived—like a couple of months, short. It’s reported that several factors came into play: First, the work opportunities were not nearly as plentiful as Hope had hoped. Second, they were very homesick almost from the beginning. Third, when Hope tried to register Kayla for school, they discovered that the high school had no gymnastics. Fourth, James, her father, took a significant health turn for the worse. With the culmination of these factors, they decided to move back immediately.

A LESS THAN TRIUMPHANT RETURN

The quick, unexpected, and unplanned return to Antigo, the same summer they left, brought with it some complications of its own. As you can imagine, the speedy return left Hope without time to secure a place to live or find employment. As a short-term solution, Kayla would stay with her grandparents, while her mom went to stay with some friends.

Kayla’s accommodations were less than desirable—especially for a teenage girl—as all they could manage at the time was a cot in the hallway. They sold her situation as a quick and temporary measure; and at least she was home, close to her father and friends. Unfortunately, it was a much shorter situation than anyone could have imagined.

Approximately a week after their return, Kayla informs her parents that she was going to spend the night at Natasha’s house. To be fair, if I had a cot in a hallway as a teen, I have a feeling that I would also look for every opportunity to stay elsewhere. However, this was not her plan at all.

In truth, on the night of August 9th, 2009, Kayla and her friends heard about an outdoor party happening in Antigo. School was getting ready to start, and it sounded like this might be an end-of-the-summer blowout. So, these teenagers did what so many teenagers had done before them, and pulled the old switcharoo on their respective parents: Kayla was staying overnight at Natasha’s house, and Natasha was staying over at Kayla’s. (I need to mention that this one confuses me a bit. We know that Kayla’s sleeping arrangement was a cot in the hallway, so where exactly did Natasha say she was staying? Did her mother not know about Kayla’s cramped quarters?)

They set their scheme into motion, and the young ladies went to the party. You don’t really have to guess where this is headed, because I already laid some of it out at the beginning. Apparently, they had such a good time that the night, and part of the next day, got away from them. Neither girl had a cell phone, and apparently, they couldn’t find anyone’s to borrow or a payphone to use. I would like to think that, because they took the time to concoct a cover story, they had a plan to keep it going by returning in time for their parents to be none-the-wiser.

As you recall, they did not get away with their planned hijinks. Instead, the girls ended up frightening their families to the point that their mothers ended up at the police station to report them missing. They turned up later that day, and this event concluded with a happy ending. However, what should have ended in one of those minor incidents with a not-so-funny story to tell her kids later in life may, in fact, be one of the major reasons this case is still unsolved to this day.

It was during this kerfuffle that Kayla’s mother reports that while calling around to Kayla’s friends to locate her daughter, one of them slipped and mentioned that Kayla and Natasha liked to travel to Wausau to party. Hope claims that this was the first time she learned of her daughter’s destination proclivities. She goes on to admit that she sat Kayla down and they both agreed that Wausau was off the table. These statements will lead us to several interesting questions as we examine the people and hours surrounding the disappearance.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF KAYLA

On Tuesday, August 11th, the very next day after these poor mothers were at the police station preparing to file their daughters as missing, Kayla checks in with her mother and tells Hope that she and Natasha would spend the day together. To her credit, it appears that Kayla may have been feeling some guilt about the earlier events and was now trying to keep her mother informed about their movements.

According to the people who were present, their day was pretty unremarkable and uneventful. Natasha and Kayla spent part of the day just hanging out at a nearby local park. When they grew tired of that, they both returned to Natasha’s house. Already at the house was Natasha’s older brother, with Kayla’s older brother Jimmy, and their friend Kevin. They all palled around the house together until it was time for Natasha to leave for her new job at a local restaurant. Kayla stayed at Natasha’s place a bit longer and made plans for later that night with Kevin before she left.

24-year-old Kevin Kielcheski was an old family friend, and one of Jimmy’s closest buddies. It’s said that within their peer group, Kevin acted as a surrogate big brother/protector and frequent taxi driver for the girls. From everything I can find, it appears that this was not an uncommon occurrence that Kevin (24) would make plans or visit alone with Kayla (15). For now, I am just going to leave that here and save it for our later discussion.

After leaving Natasha’s, Kayla returned to her grandparents' home and visited for a time with her dad. Phone records show she received a brief call from Kevin around 8:45 p.m. This call was presumably to let Kayla know he was close by because she left the house shortly after this call. James did not know, when he said goodbye to Kayla that night, that it would turn out to be the last time he would see his little girl.

Around 9:30 p.m., according to her friend Beth, Kayla stopped by to visit with her at the local McDonald’s where Beth was working. There are several issues we need to note here that become critical for the later investigation of this case: First, this was the final confirmed sighting of Kayla. Second, Beth confirms Kayla pulled up with Kevin in his jeep, but only Kayla came in while Kevin stayed in the vehicle. Third, Kayla made plans with Beth to call her at the end of her shift. Fourth, Kayla seemed like her completely normal, happy, bubbly self. Fifth, and finally, Beth later confesses to the detective on the case that part of the substance of their visit was Kayla telling Beth that her next plans were to drive around with Kevin, while they chill and smoke marijuana together. Keep all five of these things in mind.

The next morning, Wednesday, August 12th, James realized Kayla had not made it back home from her outing the night before. This is where the events of a few days before start damaging this case. James, upon realizing that his daughter never returned home, makes one phone call and then waits.

Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to come down on James for this reaction, to question why he would take a wait-and-see approach as the hours passed and his daughter failed to return. However, we must consider that just a few days ago, they went through this similar circumstance with Kayla. This event included nearly involving the police in a manhunt for a teen that, though clearly irresponsible and inconsiderate, returned home perfectly safe. It’s reasonable to assume that three things were happening here: First, I’m certain he was as worried as any father would be when his little girl is not where she is supposed to be and has once again gone incommunicado. Second, given that both James and Hope worked hard to let the kids know they were welcome to spend time with either parent, it’s certainly much more likely that Kayla was with the other parent than the victim of foul play. Third, he did not want to be that guy (twice in the same week), the one that sends up flairs and rings the alarm bell every time his teen is a few hours late for curfew.

While anticipating (and my guess is praying) that his Kayla would walk through the door any minute, James made two phone calls. He called Kevin, the last person known to have been with his daughter. Kevin told James that they only hung out for a bit and then Kayla asked him to drop her off at a friend’s house, which he claimed he did. Everything seemed, for the most part, on the up and up; after all, Kevin was well known to all of them, and he often acted as a taxi for the group. However, there is one interesting issue I would like to bring up here, which we will cover in greater detail later—Kevin claimed he did not know who this “friend” was or any further details on where he had dropped Kayla off. I am sure James pondered on these missing details through most of the rest of the day while he waited for Kayla to return. She did not. James, tired of waiting, makes a second call. This time he calls Hope on the chance that she has seen or heard from Kayla. She didn’t pick up, so James left a message. That night passed with no sign of Kayla Berg.

The morning of Thursday, August 13th, Hope noticed a missed call and message—an eager father looking for his daughter. Was Kayla with her? She was not. Hope returned James’ call, hopeful, I’m certain, that Kayla had safely returned home by that time. She had not. James relayed to Hope the information that Kevin had given him, including she was dropped off at a friend’s house and since that time had neither returned nor contacted him. The two had now both crossed off the first likely option that “the kid is at the other’s house” for Kayla’s whereabouts. However, like James, Hope had the earlier experience fresh in her mind. Though worried, Hope waited that day out, anticipating that this was just another teen stunt. Another night passed with no sign of Kayla Berg.

The sun rose on Friday, August 14th, and so did their panic. They hadn’t seen or heard from Kayla since Tuesday night. Hope started calling around to see if she could get more information on this “friend” with whom Kayla was supposedly staying. She started with Kevin, but received no answer. Hope moved on to Kayla’s close circle of friends. She eventually got to Beth, who told her that not only did she see Kayla that night, but that Beth had expected a call from her shortly after her shift. A call that never came. Troubling, but not proof positive that something nefarious had taken place. Hope had no luck tracking down any further information and, as for Kevin, he didn’t return her calls. Yet another night passed with no sign of Kayla Berg.

On Saturday, August 15th, things took a positive turn in the search for Kayla. Jimmy, her older brother, contacted their mother and reported that Kayla was staying with a friend. He even provided Hope with the name and number. The search for Kayla Berg was looking up. Jimmie’s report even matched Kevin’s story: Maybe she was off pouting about their early conversation and the ban on Wausau? Maybe she was sick of staying at her grandparents' house and sleeping in a hallway? Maybe it was just good-old-fashioned teenage rebellion. Whatever it might be, Hope reached out and called the number Jimmy had provided. Nobody answered. Sadly, once again, another night passes with no sign of Kayla Berg. (If you are growing tired of hearing that, imagine her parents.)

Sunday, the 16th, arrived, and with it, a continued string of devastating news. Hope got in touch with the friend, the one her son was convinced harbored Kayla. She was not there, and worse, never had been. Worse still, this friend hadn’t seen or heard from her in quite some time. Actions very unlike their Kayla. Further, not only was that promising possibility dashed that day, but her next two contacts destroyed several other options as well.

First, Hope finally received a response from Kevin via text. Yes, I said text. All he would give her is the same story he gave James: they hung out for a while and then he dropped Kayla off at a friend’s house in Wausau—oh, and I don’t know whose place, can’t remember the address, what the residence looked like or even what she wore that night. Second, Hope got in touch with Miguel. After all, there were rumors that Kayla and Miguel were talking about getting back together. Kayla knew how her mother felt about that, so maybe Kayla was making some kind of stand by disappearing off with Miguel. However, he claimed that it had been over a week, Friday the 7th, at a party, was the last time he put eyes on Kayla. One, two, three, all possibilities shot down. The sun set again on a missing Kayla.

Monday the 17th, six days after her last confirmed sighting, found a panicked mother back at the police station. Hope filed a missing person report on Kayla Berg. The police took the report and immediately listed Kayla as a runaway. The authorities begin their search by conducting interviews with her family and friends to get a clear picture of Kayla’s habits, behaviors, and to firm up the timeline.

THE EARLY INVESTIGATION

The early stages of the investigation hold an interesting dichotomy as we look into the Kayla Berg case. Depending on which side we look at, the story takes a very different shape. If we look at it from the point of view of Kayla’s family and friends, the police did not take her missing seriously and leaned far too heavily on the teen runaway theory. If we look at the point of view of law enforcement, just a week earlier this girl pulled the same stunt, and the more they interviewed her friends, the more they got the feeling that they were holding things back and covering for Kayla. This perceived stonewalling seemed to reinforce the authorities' working theory that Kayla, with the help of her friends, was simply dodging her family. Unfortunately, my research shows that they were both right. The police leaned heavily on the runaway angle and valuable time was lost. On the other side, Kayla’s friends were certainly less than helpful in their investigation and valuable time was lost.

To a certain extent, I think the response of her peer group is understandable. For example, it was not until later that Beth confessed to the police that Kayla told her she and Kevin were going to hang out and smoke pot. You mean a teen wasn’t rushing to tell the authorities that her close friend was cruising around town getting stoned? Shocking. The police figured out early on that all roads seemed to lead to Wausau, but her friends were staying pretty tight-lipped about it. Really? You mean the teens weren’t tripping over themselves to give up all the details of their party runs and activities to the authorities or their parents? Again, color me surprised.

On the other hand, I think the early reaction of the authorities was equally understandable. We are talking about a small town here; a place where the vast majority of legal infractions were petty crimes and teenage shenanigans. They also weren’t just considering the town’s statistics and the laws of probability here—the girl had pulled the disappear and reappear just last week. It’s hard to fault them for their initial reaction, and, to their credit, they pivoted pretty quickly. After conducting several interviews and tracking the initial leads, they elevated Kayla’s status to an ‘endangered missing child’ on August 20th. That’s just a few days to figure out that the pieces they were getting just didn’t add up. The biggest piece of that puzzle turned out to be Kevin.

Kevin Kielcheski

Kevin Kielcheski was a family friend, and the last confirmed person to be with Kayla. When James inquired after his daughter, Kevin told him they hung out for a bit that night, and then she asked to be dropped off at a friend’s house, which he did. No worries, right? When Hope inquired after her daughter, she got the same story. When she pressed further, he couldn’t seem to come up with where he dropped her off or what she looked like when he did. Nor did he seem the least bit interested in engaging with her, her family, or the authorities, any further on the matter.

When the police interviewed Kevin, they got the same story. Not surprisingly, they continued to push him for more details. He told them he picked up Kayla around 9:00, stopped by the McDonald’s, then hung out for a bit and smoked some weed with her, and finally dropped her off at a friend’s house in Wausau around 10:30. According to his timeline, he spent less than 2 hours with her that night.

When pressed about the house and drop-off location, Kevin argued that he didn’t know the area well and it was Kayla who was directing him on where to go. Continuing to work at prying him open for more details, the police managed to narrow it down to the house of Miguel Marrero, located across the street from the Colonial Manor Nursing Home. Kevin also admitted that the home was dark, and he couldn’t verify if anyone was even at the home to meet her. He just dropped her off, backed out, and drove away—the way he tells it, we have to assume that he gave her enough time to close the door before he jetted out of there.

So Kevin dropped Kayla off to hang out with Miguel? Makes sense, since there were rumors they were talking about getting back together, right? Well, not so fast—it didn’t take the police long to figure out that Miguel no longer lived there. The city had inspected that house and deemed it uninhabitable and condemned the place. Miguel was now living at a residence a little over a mile from where Kevin claims to have dropped Kayla off that night.

After meeting with the police, Kevin refused to personally assist with the case any further and got himself a lawyer. In my opinion, “Lawyering up,” as they say, is not inherently an admission or display of guilt, even though many people see it that way. We all know by now that we always “have the right to an attorney,” and I don’t believe there should be a stigma attached to exercising that right. The fact that Kevin got an attorney is not the action that bothers me. He displays several other actions that do, and we are going to discuss those shortly.

Miguel Marrero

Based on what the police had been told up to that point, questioning Miguel was a very logical next step. For that, the Antigo police needed to reach out to the Wausau police for assistance. Miguel was cooperative and allowed the police to search his rental home. He also told them that the last time he saw Kayla was at a party the Friday before she went missing. This is where the information, once again, gets murky. Some sources report that this party took place at Miguel’s residence, and some sources put the party elsewhere. This discrepancy becomes important, so keep it in mind.

The police also searched the condemned house where Miguel had previously been staying, the one where Kevin claims to have last left Kayla. After an extensive search, they found no evidence that there had been any foul play and no evidence that Kayla, or anyone else, had been living or hiding on the property. Still, Miguel was continuing to cooperate with the authorities. As for Later, well, that’s another story…

A PROMISING TIP

Hope turns to the media as they begin broadcasting segments and reports on the situation. Tips start coming in, and the police diligently chase down every lead. As is often the case in these situations, most turn out to be dead ends. However, 15 days after Kayla goes missing, they receive a tip with some teeth that excited both the police and the media.

On the 26th of August, a tipster reported seeing Kayla shopping at a local Walmart. The police reviewed the security footage and found there was indeed a young female with a striking resemblance to their missing teen getting out of a black truck and entering the store. Unfortunately, the face in the video was unclear. After showing the video to the family, they ruled the individual out as Kayla. Those that knew her dismissed the sighting based on factors like the girl’s body language, gait, and walking style.

The bona fide tips and leads quickly died out—however, the rumor mill did not. It was around this time that the new school year began, and with it, the muckraking. The story of Kayla’s disappearance got digested by a subset of the kids, their parents, and some members of the local community, and its result became a twisted version of victim-blaming. Somehow it turned out to be Kayla’s fault because, after all, if she hadn’t spent all her free time getting down at these Wausau alcohol and drug-fueled orgy parties, she wouldn’t be missing. (Frankly, seeing the results, I just can’t imagine why Kayla’s friends weren’t tripping over each other to share what they knew with the authorities (insert exaggerated eye-roll for effect here).)

Thankfully, it seems the police did not get too bogged down in the local rumors and innuendo. However, the authorities kept their focus heavily on their two main persons of interest: Kevin and Miguel. So that we don’t lose track of the details, we are going to break from running our examination in chronological order, and turn to focus on the individuals as they were involved.

THE INVESTIGATION OF KEVIN

Kevin was the last confirmed person with the victim. This is always a chart-topper. The police returned to the starting point that Kevin claimed as his last point of contact, Miguel’s old house. They conducted a longer and more comprehensive examination of the house and surrounding property. Near the residence, there is a wooded area and a lake. The police brought in dogs and performed a grid search. A dog indicated interest near the lake, so they even brought in a dive team. Unfortunately, all their efforts produced little tangible results.

As I already mentioned, when the police attempted to speak with Kevin again, he directed them to his attorney. Forced to accept that they would get nothing more from Kevin, the investigators tried working on his timeline.

Kevin’s mother told the police that she witnessed her son at home close to midnight. Given that an average drive back to his house from the point of Kayla’s alleged drop-off was roughly an hour, this would put their separation time no later than 11:00. Kevin claimed in his statement to have dropped her off around 10:30. This seems to track with his story, especially if he was telling the truth about not knowing the area. Without Kayla in the vehicle to direct him, it may have taken him a bit longer to get back out. Maybe it even tracks too well, which we will get to shortly. What we do know is that their work on his timeline didn’t give the police enough to hold or charge Kevin. But something else did…

On October 26th, the police made an interesting move; they brought Kevin in on a charge of Reckless Endangerment of a Minor. As you recall, Kevin and Kayla were cruising around smoking weed, or at least this was what the police were told they did with their time. True or not, it gave the police some latitude to apply some pressure on Kevin and his lawyer. It also gave them the ability to search his vehicle, which they did. Many sources state that the police found some things of interest in his Jeep, items that they sent off for testing. It is also reported that, much later, the results returned without providing any specific cause to elevate Kevin to suspect. The exact details of these things are unknown, as the police have, thus far, kept tight-lipped about these specifics.

The police also subpoenaed Kevin’s phone records, and they found something interesting. After 9:00 p.m. on the night Kayla disappeared, there was no activity on his phone. This gap continued all the way to 2 p.m. the next day. Did his phone battery die? Did he shut it off intentionally? There is no way of knowing the answer. As promising a lead as this seemed at first blush, after going over his records, they notice several periods of phone activity just like this one. That left the police with no way to highlight this event as an isolated incident and related to the case. The investigators knew that any halfway decent defense lawyer would simply argue this away by describing Kevin as a dude who finds phones annoying and had a habit of shutting it off for extended periods. Still, this is just one more intriguing detail about the activities of Kevin on the night in question.

Further, Kevin’s issues with police dogs didn’t just end at the area where he claimed to drop off Kayla. In December, the Antigo police called in a specially trained cadaver dog and its handler. They lined up 10 vehicles for the dog to inspect, giving out no information whatsoever to the handler about the history, or their specific interest, in any of the vehicles. The cadaver dog only indicated on 1 vehicle—Kevin’s jeep. In a lineup of 10 vehicles, the dog only caught the scent of death around one of them. Of course, the dog can’t give us detailed information about the decomposition they are detecting. However, with all the circumstantial pieces taken together, things seemed to continue stacking up against Kevin.

Over a 7-month span, they performed at least another dozen targeted searches. The area National Guard even pitched in with helicopters and thermal imaging. While most of these searches uncovered little worth noting, two locations caught the attention of their dogs: a parcel of land and a potato farm. Interestingly, the parcel of land was owned by Kevin’s parents, and the potato farm was where Kevin worked. Again, circumstantial, but interesting nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the leads dried up, and very little related to Kayla’s case took place until the 8th of August, 2011. On that day, nearly two years after Kayla’s disappearance, a judge dismisses the reckless endangerment case against Kevin for lack of evidence. In the 10 years since they have filed no new or additional charges that I can find against Kevin Kielcheski.

THE INVESTIGATION OF MIGUEL

The case against Miguel really boils down to 4 main points: First, Miguel was her ex, and possibly soon again, boyfriend. Second, after he was initially cooperating with the authorities, this soon ceased. Third, the location where Kevin claims he left Kayla that night puts Miguel right in the middle of the investigation. Fourth, when the police pulled the phone records of the people related to this case, Miguel’s records showed something of interest.

The first three are common enough reasons that a person would start out of interest to the police. The fourth was his cellphone records. When the police pulled the records, his current phone backed up his story that he had not spoken, or attempted to speak, with Kayla that night—at least not by that phone. However, an older phone that was still registered to Miguel did ping off a tower that night. It was located about 40 miles north of Wausau and received 2 unanswered calls between 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. that night. Was Miguel out in the country at that late hour, and if so, what was he doing?

This time, when the police tried to question Miguel, he refused to cooperate. He also refused all future interview requests. It’s important to note that the police did search the area around the phone’s location and found nothing of interest tied to Kayla’s case.

The authorities also performed a search of Miguel’s vehicle and reportedly found some things of interest. But, just like with Kevin’s vehicle, what these things were, has still not been released to the public. I have found a few reports that claim these “things” were tested and provided nothing related to the case. Since I can’t fully substantiate what they were or what they did with them, I will leave this here as an oddity of this case. I will point out that, much like Kevin, whatever the “items of interest” were, clearly wasn’t enough to make an arrest or file charges.

THE INFAMOUS YOUTUBE VIDEO

For seven long years, the baffling case of Kayla Berg grew colder and colder. Even though the FBI started offering a cash reward and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children started advertising her case and putting out age progression photos, the case had all but stalled. Then, on October 8th, 2016, the Antigo police receive a YouTube video that reignited interest in her case.

I will not spend much time on this—as the authorities quickly debunked the video as having nothing to do with Kayla—but it needs to be mentioned because it has to do with her case.

The short version is that a couple of horror film aficionados were in the process of creating some short video projects. One of these featured a man showing off his new “girlfriend” and highlighted a girl clearly captive in his basement. The actress shown screaming in terror bore a striking resemblance to Kayla, and the time period and location had some potential connection as well. We can certainly argue the merits of such a video. However, what can’t be debated is that it rocketed a cold case back into the public spotlight. Even today, when you research Kayla’s case, this YouTube video is still one of the first things you will find.

WHERE IS THE CASE TODAY?

As I noted in the beginning, it’s very easy to question why we haven’t solved this case yet. It seems like we have tons of information and many pieces of the puzzle. However, as I also said in the beginning, while so many pieces look promising, they just don’t seem to all fit together in any cohesive way. Certainly not enough to take this case to a court of law. Add to that the multiple “sightings” of Kayla (all of which are investigated, and none of which have led to anything yet), and you find we can’t even come to an agreement on whether we are looking at a missing person or homicide case.

Sadly, on June 15th, 2011, James Spanbauer lost his long hard-fought battle to cancer. He passed never knowing what happened to the daughter he loved so much. Based on interviews, it becomes clear Jimmy, Kayla’s brother, still carries the heavy burden of her loss in a very personal way and continues to be haunted by what-ifs and if-onlys. I can only imagine his pain, as an older brother myself. As for Hope, she has never given up and continues to push for answers.

The authorities continue their searches for Kayla, often performing targeted searches at least once or twice a year. There have been many requests made for the police files over the years, but they have all been denied. It’s clear the Antigo Police Department still considers this as an active and ongoing investigation.

According to the Charley Project and The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, when Kayla disappeared, she was a white female with brown hair, brown eyes, 5’2”, and weighing approximately 108 pounds. Kayla was last seen wearing a red spaghetti-strap top, a dark blue hooded sweatshirt, jeans, tan sandals, and a silver ringed necklace. She has a scar on her right shin, an abdominal scar from surgery, small chicken pox scars on her right cheek and right side of her nose, her navel is pierced and her ears are double-pierced. She would be nearly 30 today. If you have any information about the case, please contact the Antigo Police at 715-627-6411 or Langlade County Crime Stoppers at 715-627-6472.

BREAKING DOWN THE THEORIES/PERSONAL BELIEFS

There are several pervasive theories in the Kayla Berg case, and they can all be traced to four distinct theory roots.

THEORY 1

Theory 1, and by far the one I consider the least likely, is that Kayla disappeared of her own free will and ran off to start a new life. In my opinion, this theory falls flat for three solid reasons:

  • First, we would have to assume that Kayla suddenly, and quite out of character, stopped caring about her ailing father. Right up until her disappearance, there is plenty of evidence that shows she was a “daddy’s girl” and deeply affected by her father’s struggles with cancer. I believe that a teen who was willing to sleep in a hallway to continue to be near her father one day, would not up and disappear the next. Some may argue that she had no choice in where she slept. To which I would counter that these people must have little experience with teens. Frankly, if a teen wants or objects to something badly enough, they have a unique and amazing aptitude for making life for those around them intolerable. There is no evidence that Kayla was on the warpath, or that she was taking her living situation out on those around her.
  • Second, Kayla was extremely close with her social group. Several of them have commented that the one thing convincing them there must be a nefarious reason for Kayla’s disappearance is simply that they stopped hearing from her. As you recall, Kayla made plans to call Beth that night. Her not making that call was so out of character that Beth immediately knew something had to be wrong. Kayla was well known as a social butterfly. The idea that she could go days, weeks, months, then years without reaching out to those that were so very important to her until the very minute of her disappearance is just an unbelievable stretch to me.
  • Third, even back in 2009, technology and social media were an integral part of our lives. Someone would have to make one heck of a compelling case for me to buy that a 15-year-old had the means and savvy to just disappear herself off the grid completely, and then continue to stay off 20-plus years later. Even for an adult, completely disappearing and staying disappeared is next to impossible, then and now. Not that it can’t be done, but it takes some serious skills, know-how, and likely a decent initial bankroll.

No matter how I try to put together a theory that involves Kayla manufacturing, even with help, her own disappearance, I can’t seem to make it fit the facts of the case. I can’t help but think that those who cling to this theory are doing so for one reason—because any other theory ends with her death. (Even the very minority theory that holds to her being taken, and then held captive, can’t statistically justify the idea that Kayla has survived captivity this long.)

THEORY 2

Theory 2 maintains that an unknown subject took Kayla. This theory postulates that Kayla was dropped off at Miguel’s old residence and then takes three different branches from that point. These branches all lean on Kevin admitting that he didn’t wait to see Kayla safely enter the house (A strange admission, but we will discuss that later), and instead, he backed out quickly, drove away, and then:

  • The first branch has someone who was either squatting at the place, or someone who was nearby waiting in the shadows, grabbing Kayla.
  • The second branch has Kayla walking to Miguel’s new residence, and then taken en route.
  • The third, and much smaller branch, has Kayla meeting up with someone that was known to her, but unknown to everyone else, and taken.

All three branches start from the same source: Kevin. This creates two problems right from the outset:

Problem 1: We must assume that Kevin (a suspect himself) is telling the truth when detailing where and when he dropped Kayla off. A huge “if,” but okay, let’s check that box for now.

Problem two: If we continue to take him at his word, Kevin simply dumped Kayla in the dark and sped off into the night.

I just can’t keep my mouth shut on this one… So, a nearly lifelong family friend, and best bud to her older brother, claims he had no problem leaving this 15-year-old girl who was in his charge—presumably high and known to be afraid of the dark—at this unknown creepy dilapidated condemned house? Oh, and without a phone or any evidence that anyone was even home to receive her? I either have to assume that Kevin is an incredibly irresponsible giant douche, or he is hiding something, but that’s just me.

Some have defended Kevin’s actions by pointing out he was admittedly high, and therefore wasn’t really in his right mind at the time. I would counter with the argument that if he was that high, then the likelihood of him actually pulling out of there quickly and speeding away drops nearly to zero. I have never known a seriously stoned person to do anything quickly, have you? An enormous “if,” but let’s again, for the sake of argument, check that box for now and dig deeper into the possible branches.

According to branch 1: an unknown subject was already at the location, either squatting at the house or there by happenstance. We know the police searched the house and surrounding area more than once and found no evidence that anyone was staying at the house or that there was any kind of struggle in, or around, the area. Could they have missed something? I guess it’s possible, but the likelihood is pretty slim. Could this have been a “wrong place - wrong time” situation? An intersection of events where a predator just happened to be nearby, or waiting in a condemned house, at the same time a high teenager was dropped off in the dark alone, and left there? Again, I guess it’s possible, but that likelihood seems even slimmer.

Branch 1 also has another very interesting problem with this theory. According to Kayla’s friends, Kayla not only knew that Miguel had moved, but had spent time at his new place. Based on what we know of Kayla and her friends, even if we dismiss the idea that they were in talks to rekindle their romance (which I don’t), this seems like something Miguel and her friends would have shared with her. Why, then, would she have Kevin drop her off at a place that she knew was vacant? Is it possible she was too high to recall how to get to his new place, so instead had Kevin take her to a known place? It’s possible, but her only reason would be to have Miguel, or someone else, get her to his new place. According to her family and friends, the teen didn’t have a phone. According to the authorities, Kevin’s was turned off and unused. So, did Kevin just drop her off, knowing that it wasn’t her actual destination, hoping somebody might happen by to give her a ride or that she could walk from there? Did Kayla keep Kevin in the dark about her final destination, and, again, hoping somebody might happen by to give her a ride or that she could walk from there? Neither makes sense, given any of the known facts. Frankly, the more you pick at this theory, the more it falls apart. It’s branch 2 that is an attempt to answer some of the weaknesses found in branch one.

According to branch 2: Kayla intentionally had Kevin drop her off at Miguel’s old residence, intending to walk to Miguel’s new residence. After all, the new place was less than a mile away. This answers the question of why they couldn’t find evidence of a crime at the old residence: because there wasn’t one.

This theory also raises the odds of her being taken. While the idea that a predator was at that exact house waiting at that exact time has fairly low odds, the idea that a predator was cruising around that night and came across a lone teen wandering the streets, unfortunately, has a higher probability and makes more sense. This theory also checks the box that Kayla knew Miguel didn’t live there anymore. However, it doesn’t answer the most fundamental question of all—why?

Even though I find this branch the most plausible of the “unknown subject” theories, it still has too many holes for me to consider this the best overall theory. We know she stopped by McDonald’s that night and talked with Beth. According to Beth, Kayla shared her plans about cruising around and smoking pot and then getting back in touch with Beth later that night. Yet, less than an hour later, Kayla supposedly ends up 35 miles away at an abandoned house with no means of contacting her friend? What changed? What so drastically altered her plans? Did she get high and have a sudden urge to be with Miguel? If so, why didn’t Kevin simply lay that out? For example: The girl wanted to see Miguel, so we went driving around to try and find his house… we couldn’t, so she asked me to drop her off at his old place… we were too high to think of calling Miguel from my phone for directions. But no, his story is that he did not know where he was dropping her off or why. Even though this theory is possible, my issue is that it doesn’t seem congruent with what we know about Kayla or Kevin. This just doesn’t add up.

For me, I find branch three completely ludicrous, but the theory is out there and must be addressed. This theory seems to exist simply to shift all the blame to Kayla herself. Kayla was having some secret relationship and was meeting with this paramour in the shadows. Then, she either ran away with this person, or this person did her harm. Some even go so far as to posit that Kayla was pregnant with this unknown individual’s baby, and that is what got her killed. Seriously? This theory has no basis in evidence whatsoever, and anyone pushing this nonsense should be ashamed of themselves.

THEORY 3

Theory 3 is that Miguel is responsible for her disappearance. Just to review, this theory rests on the points that Miguel’s former residence was the final known location before Kayla went missing, that he was her ex and possible on-again boyfriend, the location of an old cellphone of his that night, and that he stopped cooperating with authorities in the case.

Frankly, I think the entire case against Miguel is pretty weak, but let’s go through it:

Her last known location was Miguel’s former residence? Well, that information is based on the word of Kevin, himself a suspect, with nobody else to corroborate this as fact. If we are going to stick strictly to the known facts, the McDonald’s was the last known sighting of Kayla that night.

Miguel was her ex? I get it, the current and exes are always at the top of the list until they can alibi out. He told the police that the last time he saw her was the Friday before she went missing. Zero evidence has come out to counter that statement. He also told the police that he had not spoken with her the day she went missing. His current cellphone records back that up, as do the people who were with her that day.

His old cellphone location? An old cellphone registered to Miguel pinged off a tower about 40 miles north of Wausau and received some late-night unanswered calls. And this is evidence of what? Nobody, to my knowledge, has seen or produced this phone. It was at this point that Miguel stopped cooperating with the case, which unfortunately leaves this point open to interpretation and speculation. Did he even have this phone still in his possession? I would love to know.

When my mind wanders on the question of the cellphone, it lands on two possible personal theories about the phone (which amount to pure speculation on my part):

  • The first phone possibility is that he lent, or gave, his old cellphone to Kayla. Perhaps so they could communicate with each other on the side. This would help explain to me why Kayla told Beth she would call her later, and why she may have had no problem with Kevin dropping her off at Miguel’s old house–because she had a way of communicating with them. This theory seems nice on the surface, but then takes a dark turn when you factor in the late-night pings and calls. If he did loan or give the phone to her, then that means it was Kayla, 40 miles north of Wausau that night, that could not answer the phone. I just can’t put a positive spin on that possibility, and maybe neither could Miguel. Perhaps he didn’t tell anybody because he didn’t think anyone would believe that it was Kayla who had the phone and he was nowhere near wherever the phone was? Again, just my thoughts.
  • My second phone theory is that it was Miguel, himself, who had the phone. Maybe he was seeing someone, even though he was in talks of getting back together with Kayla. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit that he was out for some late-night hanky-panky with someone else while Kayla was in trouble.
  • My third theory for the phone is that he lent or gave it to a friend, and he didn’t want to give the authorities the individual’s name. Perhaps this person made use of the phone for some nefarious purpose?

It’s impossible to know if any of these theories are true unless Miguel decides to start cooperating again.

Miguel stopped cooperating with the authorities and the case. Miguel stopped cooperating with the case, claiming he was being harassed by the police and Kayla’s family. I’m not really sure how to define harassing here. The family wanted answers. The police wanted answers. This is certainly understandable—heck, I want answers. Did everybody go about it the right way? Maybe, maybe not. Miguel was cooperative in the beginning, letting the police ask their questions and search where they wanted. Eventually, it seems Miguel hit a wall where he decided enough was enough. I guess, in some ways, I can see his point. Frankly, the only question I think he needs to answer—the one that may clear up the few clouds over his head—is that cellphone. Maybe he already has, and we just haven’t been told. As I said before, any request for information from the police is still being denied. If he hasn’t, he should consider clearing up that issue. Outside of that, I see very little that points in Miguel’s direction as the possible offender in this case.

THEORY 4

Theory 4 is that Kevin is the one responsible for her disappearance. For me, this seems like the most plausible theory. While there is no doubt that a later stack of circumstantial evidence builds and points in his direction, it’s the initial indicators that land Kevin at the top of my suspect list.

Kevin is the last verifiable person seen with Kayla. The last verifiable person with a victim naturally becomes a person of interest—as it should. After their visit to McDonald’s, we only have Kevin’s word about what happened for the rest of the evening. The problem? Kevin’s account is not only inconsistent with the nature of their group dynamic, but it’s also incongruent with the character of Kayla herself.

Many first-hand sources put Kevin acting as a de facto protector and an ad hoc older brother of their group. This was not a one-time thing, but rather as an ongoing relationship dynamic accepted by her parents, her older brother, and shared among Kayla’s circle of friends. Yet, when the group faces a most significant event—one of them goes missing—the hero Kevin is nowhere to be seen. Further, more than just demonstrating a complete lack of interest in helping the family or investigators with the search, Kevin actively attempts to stall any progress.

Simply put, having information, and not sharing or delaying said information, is most definitely a stall tactic. It was also a tactic used by Kevin that got progressively worse. When Kayla’s father got in touch with Kevin, his information was sparse and bordering on ridiculous. Then, it took Kevin how long to get back to Kayla’s mother, and by text, no less? Followed by a ridiculously difficult interview with the police, where getting any information out of him was said by authorities to be “like pulling teeth.” And finally, Kevin finished his stonewalling by putting a lawyer between him and everyone else involved. Forget that he wasn’t actually out there physically looking for his surrogate little sister, and actual little sister of his supposed best friend; Kevin was actively acting as an impediment to the investigation. His actions from the very minute of Kayla’s disappearance were wholly inconsistent with the known nature of the group’s relationship dynamic. Big red flag.

OK, so Kevin didn’t want to help with the investigation. Let’s assume that a completely innocent person would suddenly have no interest in finding a friend, or even just the sibling, of their friend. Especially one that was last seen in his charge. We still have to come to terms with the limited information that he did share. More importantly, we must walk through that information from the perspective of the victim to see if it passes the smell test.

We know the last confirmed interaction with Kayla, by anyone other than Kevin, was at the McDonald’s at around 9:30 that night. She goes in and chats with her friend Beth, while Kevin stays outside. Kayla, according to Beth, is behaving like her normal bubbly self and, over the course of the conversation, makes two important statements about her plans: First, that she and Kevin plan on just hanging out while smoking some pot. Second, that Kayla would call Beth after she got off her shift. Smell test? Check and Check. It’s well established that Kayla would both hang out with Kevin on her own, and enjoy the occasional toke of marijuana. It’s also well established for Kayla, the social butterfly, to reach out to her friends late in the evening and to make late plans. Nothing, so far, is outside the character of Kayla.

Everything seems normal up to this point. We can say with fair certainty—based on her behavior—young Kayla had no inkling of how the night would end. However, the fact that she stated her intent to call Beth later poses some interesting questions. Kayla had no phone at the time of making that declaration, which leads to three possibilities in my mind: She either made the statement as perfunctory and had no intention of following through, she expected to still be with Kevin at that time and he had a phone, or she expected to be somewhere by that time which would give her access to a phone. Let’s move forward, keeping those things in mind.

Kevin, now our only source, states that they drove around and smoked pot for a while. Smell test? Check. She told Beth those were the plans, when Kevin was in the car and had no way of hearing, so I’m buying what they are selling.

Kevin claims that Kayla then requests that he take her to Wausau. Smell test? Starting to get a whiff of something funky, but not outright unpalatable. We know Kayla goes to Wausau, and we know she has friends in Wausau. Frankly, this would pass the smell test completely, if she hadn’t just agreed to her mother that Wausau was off the table. However, we also know that teenagers are apt to tell their parents one thing and do another. Smells a bit off, but I am still willing to buy it.

The two then take the journey from Antigo to Wausau, heading to, as Kevin claims, an unknown destination. Smell test? That funky smell is starting to get worse. Kevin was a very active member of this group, including acting as a frequent taxi. We are supposed to believe that Kayla told him to drive her to Wausau, and that she would then direct him to a random house? Even if we assume he didn’t know every person who this small-town girl was associated with, we should assume that big brother protector Kevin was cool with this plan? He argues that this was because he didn’t know the area very well. OK, I’ll consider buying that, albeit with some measure of reluctance. But, if she was heading to Miguel’s house, as he later claims (only after the police put together the residence through pieces of his story and some detective work), why wouldn’t she have just told Kevin that she was going to meet with Miguel outright? Things are moving outside of what we know of Kayla’s character. There was no shame in her game when it came to Miguel, so why would that start now?

They arrive at what is later determined as Miguel’s former residence. Smell test? Outright foul, and for several reasons. We must assume that Kevin, the certified taxi, has never dropped Kayla off to see Miguel before. Again, I guess I’ll try to buy it, but choking down my reluctance is getting harder. We then must assume that Kayla did not know that her past, and possible future, paramour no longer lives at this house. Ding, ding… We have now reached the limit of what I am willing to accept. There was just simply no way that Kayla, the social butterfly, would not have discovered that Miguel had moved. Instead, I buy that she, at the very least, visited Miguel’s new digs, if not also attended a party or two there. Moving is big information in someone’s life, and to believe that Miguel didn’t share that event with his group of friends, many of which were Kayla’s friends, is ludicrous. Further, even if Miguel did not let Kayla know directly (which I don’t buy), but that these friends did not report the move to Kayla, is more ludicrous still. The only viable alternative is that Kayla did not want Kevin to know that she was going to see Miguel, but again, this is not congruent with Kayla’s earlier behaviors and character.

Finally, Kevin reported they arrived at a completely dark house. He then proceeded to drop Kayla off, and cruise out of there before even verifying that anyone was home or that she made it inside. Smell test? This part of the story is more full of manure than Biff Tannen’s 1946 Ford Coupe. We are supposed to accept that Kevin, the older protector, dropped this teenage girl off (with no means of communication, I might add) at a vacant-looking house, in the dark of night, whose occupants he did not know, and then left before seeing the outcome. If these actions were within the true character and traits of Kevin, there is just no way that he would have retained his position of trust within this group—super protective brother Jimmy and her parents would have seen to that.

These final reported actions don’t just stand against Kevin, they don’t pass the smell test for Kayla as well. Not only is it well established that Kayla would not take these sorts of risks, especially solo, but her mother also reports that Kayla was petrified of the dark. Like, convinced that she would come to great harm in the dark, level of petrified.

Could Kayla have blown off her friend Beth? Sure. Could she have ignored her promise to her mother about Wausau? You bet. Could she have directed Kevin to take her to a house—without disclosing who she was meeting—that appeared vacant, and willingly get out into the dark of night and watch her older guardian leave her there alone? Ummmm, I think I’m more likely to win the Miss USA pageant. Frankly, I wouldn’t buy that story if it was told in a Stephen King novel.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is no doubt that what I just walked through, while a logical conclusion, is still legally speculative. We don’t convict on speculation, and rightfully so. However, in my opinion, when we put his general behavior and attitude during the days following her disappearance and beyond combined with his Swiss Cheese version of events with what the authorities later find throughout the course of their investigation, I have a hard time arguing why we haven’t had a trial yet. But, that’s not for me to say. What I will say is that it seems either myself, her parents, her brother, members of law enforcement, crime researchers, and let’s not forget several highly trained police dogs have a personal grudge against Kevin, or that man has some explaining he needs to do before a judge. Whether that ends up being before a court in this land, or a higher court when his time runs out is, once again, not for me to say.

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About the Creator

J. Nathaniel Lee

Husband and Father, Author and Content Creator, Podcaster and Freelancer-my top 3 loves in that order. jnathaniellee.com / @jnathaniellee

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  4. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  5. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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